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Western Power preparing to minimise impact of two-day CEPU strike

Western Power is seeking to minimise the impact on customers and the community across its network from a two-day stoppage next week that has been called by the Communications, Electrical & Plumbing Union (CEPU).

The union has formally advised Western Power that more than 800 employees covered by the CEPU enterprise agreement will cease work for 48 hours commencing from 5am on Thursday, 20 May.

Our focus is ensuring that homes and businesses experience minimal power disruption by identifying all scheduled maintenance work that won’t go ahead as a result, and proactively advising affected customers.

A two-day strike means that Western Power will have to delay all work across metropolitan and regional communities normally undertaken by those employees covered under the CEPU EA.

Western Power Executive Manager Asset Operations Sam Barbaro said that while Western Power respects the rights of employees to take industrial action, the CEPU’s decision to hold a series of partial work bans and now a two-day stoppage was extremely disappointing.

“A two-day stoppage means that all maintenance work planned for Thursday and Friday must cease and we are starting to advise our customers that we cannot complete their scheduled maintenance. We are also identifying how we can safely and effectively manage urgent fault repairs and outages across those days,” he said.

“The union has also issued a ban on all planned overtime and this will have a major impact on customers, as some of our work is planned out of hours to minimise disruptions to customers.

“Despite the CEPU’s claims that these are ‘light bans’, their actions are designed to be cumulatively disruptive, with partial work bans and a two-day strike resulting in significant impacts to our planned work. Rolling work bans are particularly hard to predict and make it very difficult for us to plan and minimise interruption to customers and the community.

“Because of the nature of our business, we have to plan jobs several days, weeks and even months in advance. So even if the union were to agree the night before these outages not to proceed with their action, we’d be unable to proceed with maintenance currently scheduled for next Thursday and Friday.

“We believe that the CEPU’s demands are unreasonable and out of line with community expectations. If we were to agree to their claims it would cost over $30 million a year and equate to an almost 40 per cent increase on the average annual wage of people covered under the CEPU agreement. This represents a significant financial impost on our customers and the broader community.

“We remain open to further meetings with the union. We’ve accepted some of their claims and not asked for any changes to the enterprise agreement in return. The remaining claims are unreasonable. Our position has always been consistent with the State Public Sector Wages Policy, which allows for an annual wage increase of $1,000 per employee.”

Western Power’s response to industrial action is being conducted in accordance with the Fair Work Act. Our response to date includes standing down and sending home employees involved in or impacted by the industrial action and who are unable to do their work for the day safely or effectively as planned. The Act requires us to dock employee pay where they participate in industrial action.

Background

In mid-2020, Western Power began negotiations with the CEPU for a replacement enterprise agreement that will cover around 800 of our operational employees.

In December 2020 and April 2021, the CEPU applied for, and was granted, a protected action ballot order (PABO) by the Fair Work Commission. The subsequent ballot for eligible employees to vote on whether they want the right to take certain types of industrial action was successful, enabling members to take certain types of industrial action, ranging from partial to full work bans, provided at least five days’ written notice is given.

Western Power’s offer to employees to be covered by the CEPU EA is fair and in line with, if not better than, industry standards including wage increases of $1,000 per year.

Additional new benefits include two extra days paid leave per year known as wellness days; 10 minute paid tea break per day; electrical license allowance of $27.33 per week; mechanical allowance increase to $40 per fortnight and paid meal breaks during emergency events, improvements to the availability allowance; higher duties pay after one day instead of two; and a commitment to retain apprentices who complete apprenticeship before 31 August 2022 for two years post-apprenticeship.